Scots assault victim offers help to PTSD sufferers

Jacqui Suttie developed post traumatic stress disorder after she was assaulted. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Jacqui Suttie developed post traumatic stress disorder after she was assaulted. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A YOUNG woman who was violently assaulted on a train has set up the nation’s first charity dedicated to helping people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Jacqui Suttie, of Prestonpans, East Lothian, was crippled by the debilitating condition after the attack in March 2013, which led to her having flashbacks and frequent panic attacks where she was unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time.

More than one in ten people in the UK will experience PTSD at some point in their lives but it is often misdiagnosed, said Suttie.

She said: “I was on a train home at around 6pm and I was attacked. It is not always so much about what happened but your brain’s ability to process things. The common misconception is that only people in the armed forces get it.

“When I was told I had PTSD, I thought, I haven’t been to war or seen the things they have seen. How can I have this?”

The condition is characterised by a traumatic event which provokes fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death and can affect anyone.

Suttie describes the condition as “a memory filing error”, where the mind has been unable to deal with what happened so you get these flashbacks where the memory reoccurs as the brain tries to process what it could not ­before.

She said: “My PTSD left me with debilitating, exhausting, uncontrollable and crippling fear – stuck in the fight/flight/freeze adrenaline surge.

“Fear of everything, and unable to do almost anything, including just being me, without incredible effort.

“At times I was unable to move, breathe or speak from intense fear just going about my everyday life.

“I developed psoriasis under my eyes from crying so much, doctors wanted to put me on beta-blockers so I didn’t damage my heart from putting it under too much stress.

“I didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time, my muscles and joints were in agony from being so tense, I’d chip my fillings from clenching my teeth so hard without knowing and I’ve made life difficult for everyone around me. I wasn’t me anymore, I became a highly sensitive faulty CCTV system.”

The 31-year-old had to take time away from her job in marketing and her recent marriage to husband Scott was placed under intense strain.

A doctor finally diagnosed her with the condition and she underwent a treatment known as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) which effectively rid her of the PTSD after just six sessions.

She said: “I want people to know that just because you have PTSD, it doesn’t mean you have to live with it forever. There are treatment options which can get rid of it for good.”

The procedure involves processing the traumatic memories by tapping into the rapid eye movement function which occurs in sleep.

The therapist will move their fingers back and forth in front of the eye while recalling the traumatic event before shifting the discussion to more pleasant memories.

Suttie, who has a degree in environmental geoscience, said: “I feel like I am back to the old me before this all happened, but with an extra spring in my step for having got through this. I never thought I would run a charity but I want people to know they don’t have to suffer.”

During her worst moments, Suttie was shocked to find how little support or information there was available.

The majority of people exposed to traumatic events experience short-term distress, which resolves itself without the need for professional intervention, but the small proportion who do develop PTSD are unlikely to seek help. More than 70 per cent of sufferers do not receive any support.

House fires, abuse, burglary or even childbirth can trigger PTSD.

Suttie said: “It makes it very difficult for people to seek help if they don’t know what is wrong with them. I put down a lot of my stress to my upcoming wedding, because I never thought I could have something like PTSD.

“Some of the people getting in touch with the charity are saying that doctors missed it because they weren’t looking for it.”

The new charity, PTSD UK, aims to help sufferers find treatments such as EMDR and cognitive behavioural therapy.

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